1.) It seems the storyline for NYCFC this year is the loss of Ronny Delia as manager and Taty Castellanos, MLS best scorer before he moved to Girona. It took the team some time bounce to back; how do they look now?
I think that’s the storyline outside of New York City. If you follow the club, the storyline this year is the ascension of Nick Cushing, and how he has turned the pieces left over from last year’s title-winning team into one of the best NYCFCs we have ever seen. It was a rough summer, with a near-historic 10-game slump, but now NYCFC are on a six-game winning streak with 14 goals scored and just three goals allowed.
More importantly, NYCFC are playing beautiful soccer. I might be biased, but the 3-0 win over Inter Miami was easily the most impressive performance put in by any team in the MLS Cup Playoffs this year. Cushing has created a system that plays to the strengths of his roster, and you’re seeing it pay dividends on the field.
2.) After last year’s COVID cup, the Philadelphia Union’s been looking for redemption, both against NYCFC and with an MLS Cup. What’s the storyline for this game for City?
Hopeful optimism. I don’t think anybody expected NYCFC to be back in the Eastern Conference Finals after that late-summer swoon, least of all New York City fans. Philadelphia are a formidable team, easily the best in the East this year, but this NYCFC squad showed it knows how to win pretty (against Miami) and ugly (against Montréal), and the core of the team demonstrated last year that they can get results on the road against tough opponents in do-or-die games.
3.) Two playoff games, two playoff wins. What do you think the last two matches do for NYC’s confidence?
Both wins did so much for the club and for the fans. That win against Miami at Citi Field was more than a soccer masterclass, it righted historical wrongs. Nicolas Acevedo completely neutralized Alejandro Pozuelo, which in turn silenced Gonzalo Higuaín — you have to remember that Pozuelo has an astonishing record against NYCFC, and he tormented us only other time a playoff game was held at Citi Field. Basically, Pozeulo single-handedly defeated NYCFC in 2019 when we were a No 1 seed. To win a playoff game at Citi by nullifying Pozuelo settled some scores and was deeply satisfying.
The win against Montréal was important in a different way. Everybody picked NYCFC to lose, but then there was that early goal — followed by an injury to center-back Maxime Chanot that forced Cushing to change formations 15 minutes into the game. NYCFC had to reinvent themselves on the field, going from a possession team to a transition team that would make Jim Curtin proud: Let them have the ball, soak up the attacks, score when you can. Against Miami, NYCFC had 52% possession, took 27 shots, and scored three goals. Against Montréal, NYCFC had 35% possession, took five shots, and scored three goals. That kind of tactical flexibility wins championships.
4.) Will NYCFC have any notable injuries? What are your lineup and score predictions?
Honestly, I think the injury report is going to set the stage for this game and likely determine the result.
Will Philadelphia have Bedoya? They looked lost without him against Cincinnati. It was a hard-fought and well-earned win, but Flach’s goal was more about Cincinnati’s defensive lapses than Philadelphia’s attack. Uhre was invisible, Gazdag didn’t look like a guy who had scored 22 goals, and Carranza couldn’t get it done.
Will NYCFC be without Chanot? He remained on the sideline after coming off, so we’re hopeful. If NYCFC line up with a back three of Chanot, Alex Callens, and Thiago Martins, then Philadelphia will have a hard time creating chances even if Bedoya is in the game.
Will NYCFC be without Maxi? He was substituted at the half, and while it looked like a tactical move he had been knocked around. It’s hard to see NYCFC doing much without him in the midfield.
If Philadelphia play the NYCFC that managed to beat Montréal, then our postseason run might be over. But if the NYCFC that beat Miami takes the field, it could be a sad night for Philadelphia soccer. At least you’ll still have the Phillies.
My prediction? One team will score twice, and one team will score once. Whether it’s 1-2 or 2-1 will depend on who’s on the lineup cards.